IRELAND international Stephen O'Halloran took a major step towards recovery from a career-threatening injury last night when he lined out for Aston Villa's reserves, his first game in 15 months.
The Cork-born player, who was capped twice by Steve Staunton in 2007, has not played since he suffered a cruciate injury - the second of his career - just three games into a loan spell with Swansea City, in December 2008.
But O'Halloran has made good progress in his recovery programme and he received a massive boost when he played for Villa's second string last night, the 22-year-old coming on for the last ten minutes of a 3-0 reserve league win over Birmingham City.
Former Cobh Ramblers player O'Halloran has been at Villa since he was 16 and after an impressive showing in Ireland's two-game tour of the USA under Staunton in 2007, he was seen as a long term option for the left back position but cruciate injuries, picked up while on loan first at Leeds and then Swansea, knocked him off course. O'Halloran will now try to use the five remaining reserve games of the season to improve his fitness and win a new contract from Martin O'Neill.
LINFIELD MAY SNUB SETANTA
BELFAST side Linfield have suggested that this season could be the last time they compete in the Setanta Sports Cup.
The Blues play St Patrick's Athletic in the competition in Windsor Park on Saturday but Linfield, winners of the first Setanta Cup in 2007, are losing interest.
"The participation money certainly does not cover the expenses in terms of travelling," said club chairman Jim Kerr. "We haven't had to travel to Cork but we have been to Dublin and Derry. I feel sorry for Cliftonville who have had to go to Sligo and Cork.
"I was a lone voice many years ago when they were talking about an all Ireland league. I said it wasn't economically viable and it is showing now.
"The southern clubs went full-time with big money backers but those people want a return for their money. It hasn't happened and now southern clubs are looking to go part-time again. Our management committee will decide whether we continue to play in the competition and we are always thinking about the manager and his players.
"They are, on the whole, part-time players and the demands on them - playing two games a week - are substantial."
- AIDAN FITZMAURICE